The Suede Palace
at the 2008 Grand National Roadster Show
Pomona, CA
01-25, 26, 27-08
Story by Richard Parks and photographs by Roger Rohrdanz

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  The Suede Palace is a place where the past comes alive and people with different beliefs in the hot rod culture can thrive. It’s a young place at heart, where the older people can remember what it was like and the younger people look up to us as paragons to emulate. The Suede Palace is a place that exists for just three days at the Grand National Roadster Show held every year in January at Pomona, California. Give the credit to John and Annika Buck and the hundreds of volunteers, all young at heart. What does Suede mean? It’s a term used by Traditional hot rodders to indicate that their hot rods are not highly chromed, polished or painted, but are drivers. The AMBR cars are half a million dollar roadsters and they look like it. Traditional hot rodders want to use and drive their cars and enjoy them, not spend huge amounts of money to make them look perfect. Further to the extreme are the rat rodders who feel that the hot rod culture has been high jacked by money and weekend culturists. The rat rodders not only do not paint or chrome their cars, but often let rust, dirt and grime remain on their vehicles. The Suede tradition is built around the 1930-1950’s American car culture, but it goes deeper than that. The Kar Kulture is authentically an American Retro lifestyle. Clothes

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, furniture, cars, appliances, music, art, cartoons and all things from the ‘30’s through the ‘50’s are accepted. To understand how thoroughly this culture is rooted in so many, it is necessary to listen to what the Kulture has to say. Here’s their story.


I think the message over the entrance to the Suede Palace has some meaning!

The Suede Palace is actually Building 10 at the Los Angeles County Fairplex in Pomona, California. It’s a big barn-like structure; probably 200 by 200 feet in size, almost an acre in size and it doesn’t come close to holding all the people and cars that are crammed inside. John Buck, the Show’s promoter, is one of those rare entrepreneurs who are always looking to expand and draw people in. The Traditional hot rodders had always felt isolated and unappreciated by the main stream hot rodding culture and Buck offered them a place to show what they had. I’ve heard the complaints by normal hot rodders before, the sneers and jeers, but after seeing the traditional hot rodders up close I’ve come to see that they’re the real deal. There is a true warmth and zeal in their community and they are full of life. I was bone tired by the time I reached the Suede Palace, but on entering the place, the years just melted away. The first thing one notices are the bands and the music, full of jive, swing, jazz and movement. I heard loud, piercing music full of life and vitality, with names like Cari Lee and the Contenders, Deadbeat Daddies, and Russell Scott and the Red Hots. The DJs were DJ Axle and Flat Top Tom. I made eye contact with Leila Lockheart, who was working in Mark Glass’ Bombshell ‘n Ink booth. Leila poses in saucy Rockabilly calendars and has starred in “Poison of Choice,” a Rockabilly love story, filmed on location in Los Angeles, California, in buildings showing a ‘40’s look. Her co-stars included Dana Deluxe, Ivy D’Muerta and Frankie Sin. Leila noticed what I was doing and she took my arm and escorted me around, answering all my questions. She was the

quintessential ‘hot girl’ that I remembered, with the look, clothes and make-up from the ‘40’s. She really enjoyed who she was and so did I.

  The Suede Palace was filled to bursting with people, cars and vendors and all of us made up the show. The cars consisted of old drag and land speed racecars, low-rider and traditional hot rods and customs. I moved on to ‘Gasoline,’ owned by Rob Weil, Mark Waldman and Ryan Shaver. They’ve been in business for five years, have a store in El Segundo, California and call themselves ‘low-brow’ artists. They are sponsoring the 3rd Art and Hot Rod Show on May 10, 2008, from noon to 6pm at their store. The number to call for more info is 310-416-9188 and it sounds like a blast. Flesh and Brotherhood is owned by Big Dave McNeley. His friends asked him to do artwork, t-shirts, posters, sunglasses, jeans and apparel and it turned into a business for him. He has the background for it, having graduated from UCLA as an art and Business major. So many of these start-up businesses fail and so it was nice to see a lot of them returning. What kind of year did they have since we last saw them? Carla and Leo Hernandez told me that business was booming. Carla is a petite and very pretty school teacher who owns Papi Chulos and her designs and clothes are very popular, and the kids in her high school class are her biggest supporters. She patiently answered my questions and told me that Pendleton shirts are hot this year. I asked her what they looked like and she pointed to my shirt. Oh! Reporters are always learning something new. Leo is a custom car builder and a very good one. Alex and Susie Gambino own Gambino Kustoms, and have been coming to the Grand National Roadster Show for years. Ash Duval is the designer for their clothes.

  Mike Ness owns Black Kat Kustoms and his clothing represents the band he has been in since 1979, called ‘Social Distortion.’  He’s the lead singer and guitarist and has been one of the leaders in reviving the Kulture from that era. New entrepreneurs and first time show vendors were Paul Sapp, Eric Taylor and Robert Briggs from Huntington Beach, California and their company is Steadfast, which sells air rides. Troy and Candi Barbour own the clothing business called Devil Deluxe and this was their first Grand National Roadster Show as well. “We went into business about two and a half years ago. We were tired of looking at the other shirts on the market, so we started our own line, which is a little edgier. Not everyone will put the number 666 on their shirts. Our best results have been at the hot rod shows and the girls roller derby games,” they said. There are roller derby games I asked them? They told me that there are teams and leagues all over the Southland and the country. It’s quite the retro rage again. I looked it up on the internet and they were right. Nisha Smith was back for her second year and her brand, ‘Cherry Lane,’ is doing exceptionally well. She has a new line of clothes and creates her own designs, which combines a retro ‘40’s look, but is soft and sensual. Linda Lu and D.J. Rabiola, from Long Beach, California, own ‘Baby Rab,’ and cater to children’s clothing up to age seven. Rabiola never envisioned making his living in Rock-a-baby infant clothing. A friend asked him to make some shirts for her child and the demand created a new business opportunity that he couldn’t turn down. He is also an artist and actor and is on stage at ’68 Cent Crew Theatre Company’ in Hollywood. He is currently acting in ‘The last days of Judas Iscariot.’ Lu designs her own line of barrettes and hair clips that are popular around the world and especially in Germany.

  The hot rodding, drag racing and custom car culture is not only popular in America, but finding young people throughout the world. The styles seen at the Grand National Roadster Show will soon find their way via the internet and television to markets overseas. Frankie Briseno, from Pomona, California, near the Fairplex is the owner of Greaser Alley and his business was thriving. With him was Armando Serrano, a pinstriper from Reno, Nevada, and Scott Fisk, who came to the show from Vermont. Fisk has been drawing hot rod illustrations since the 7th grade. He has a website, www.car-tooner.com and his work can be found in many Kulture Magazines. Edgar Hernandez, Jack Fields and Eric Hernandez were in the Starlite Rod & Custom booth. The shop is located in Torrance, California and they have a good reputation for street and hot rods. Sheila Boyd and Erin Lancaster are the mother-daughter duo who own Crybaby Blues and they’re from Van Nuys, California. They carry a very eclectic selection of hot rod clothing, but specialize in tattoo style Christmas ornaments, women’s halter tops and Geisha robes. When the men remember that they forgot to get their wives that special gift for allowing them to come to the show, this is one of those favorite places that they shop at. An interesting booth was Kool House Publishing and their two publications are Olskool Rodz and Car Kulture Deluxe and together they print over 400,000 magazines a month to readers in around 100 countries worldwide. Geno Di Pol is the publisher and Lelia Morgan is their sales representative. “The magazines are only four years old and is riding the crest of the car kulture movement that started around fifteen years ago,” she told me. Lelia added that the magazines have grown so fast, so quickly that she travels to at least 35 car shows a year. “I’m from the Midwest and the only way that we knew about the hot rodding kulture was to read about it in magazines. They’re the Bible of our movement,” she said.

  A lady by the name of Jenny Parker is one to watch. Her business is called Trophy Queen and she designs and makes shoes, purses, wallets and other accessories in her shop in Ventura, California. The bags and wallets are made from upholstery and they have the look, style and feel of the 1950’s. She swung a deal to license her merchandise by the NHRA and is their exclusive bag maker. Her work has been featured in the Rodders Journal and Garage Magazines. She promotes two car shows a year, the ‘Back to the Beach’ car show on April 26, 2008 for this year, and the ‘West Coast Primer Nationals,’ on the Labor Day weekend. Both shows are held in Ventura, California. ‘Fear is the New Beauty’ is an art studio owned by Candice and Max Grundy from Glendale, California. “The public is influenced by the media, and we are fear obsessed. We put that fear in our work, out in the open for people to see and then to realize that it isn’t so bad after all, said the Grundy’s.”  Max does the graphic designs. “We love the speed and culture of the automobile,” Max added. The couple was originally from Salt Lake City, Utah, and started their business in 2004. They attend about twelve shows a year and display Max’s work in galleries in Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, New York, Seattle and Iowa. Max added, “this is what we do full time – make art.” Church, yes that his name, Church, self-publishes mini-books of his prints and artwork. They have a nice, easy to read and place in one’s pocket size and the artwork is great. He sells a wide range of apparel, but the pocket-size books are his specialty. Piero De Luca has a video business called MadFabricatorsSociety.com, located in Rancho Cucamonga, California. Drew Hallam and Luke DiCiurcio offered me a chair, a very welcome respite after standing on the concrete floors all day. “Piero does it all, shoots, edits and produces the videos, eight tapes in all,” said Drew and Luke. “The videos are like car magazines, only on videotape and he’s been making videos for about four years,” they added.

  Matt and Justina Davis really breathe and live the kar kulture. They spend part of the time in their native London and the rest of their time in Los Angeles, publishing DICE Magazine, an irreverent, lusty, alive and enticing publication. “I’ve been into hot rods and bikes for twenty years, but I just didn’t see anything in the magazines that I liked, so I started my own magazine four years ago,” Matt told me. His partner is Dean Micetich and they produce 10,000 copies a month. I looked through the issue and he’s packed it with the type of photos and articles that any hot rodder would enjoy. His website is www.dicemagazine.com. An up and coming artist is James Owens from Burbank, California, who was with his wife, Kathleen. He’s been in business for just a year and this was his first Grand National Roadster Show. His original oil paintings are then made into prints for hanging and for silk-screening on t-shirts. His style is called Car Noir after the Film Noir of those classic B movies where the flawed hero never seems to win the girl. The work is very good and inspired. James has a degree from the Fine Art Center of Creative Studies, located in Detroit, Michigan. His website is www.car-noir.com. Kent Reppert II is one of my favorite artists. He mixes a cartoon style with a California ‘30’s plein air method, and then he throws in a little Williams, Crumb and Roth to create this whimsical genre that we can only call Reppertoir. He loves wolves for some reason, though he adapts and changes them into a wide range of the canine family. His “rat fink” is ‘Howler’ and ‘Mr Fix-it’ and his work is simply outstanding if you like the whimsy that can only come from the mind of an original.

  Jason and Bridget Anderson own Victory Jane USA and are located in Hesperia, California. Jason is the artist and pinstriper and Bridget runs the booth. They sell purses, signs, t-shirts, work shirts, ‘50’s style strapless dresses, dress shirts, ‘40’s style dresses and a new line of women’s WWII Army style dress apparel. They do twenty shows a year and sell a wide range of retro looking apparel. Darla Montoya and Isaiah Villareal own My Baby Jo, which opened in 2002. They have a store in Culver City, California and no one, so far that I’ve seen has exemplified the Kulture movement better than they have. Isaiah has a line of hats, derbies and car coats that are by far the height in fashion for the men. He is always busy and if he had his way, he would personally take us back to the day when a fashionably dressed gentleman never left the house with a well-chosen hat. Darla is always willing to give fashion tips to the ladies on ‘40’s and ‘50’s fashion apparel. “This is our lifestyle,” she told me. They have a little bit of everything that’s retro, selling their own designs and other lines. Their home is furnished with furniture and appliances from the WWII era. The one-piece bathing suits are straight out of an Esther Williams movie. Silk stockings and garter belts are worn under sun dresses from an early Marilyn Monroe film. Peddle pushers, red-red lipstick, bangs, flowers in the hair and the blouse tied off to show the midriff are the styles of a long ago era brought back to life once again. No where is there as much energy and life and I left the Suede Palace and re-entered a much drabber world.

Gone Racin’ is at [email protected]


The Suede Palace is almost an acre in size and it doesn’t come close to holding all the people and cars that are crammed inside.




This suede covered ’36 Ford Pickup belongs to Irene Valencia of Pomona, CA.


Mentone Beach, CA. is home to this “flamed” ’29 Ford Pickup and its owner Michael Bettencourt.


A very clean Deuce Roadster owned by Marco Rigassi from Torrance, CA.


This classic shop truck is a ’28 Ford Roadster pickup is owned by Phil Lukens of Pasadena, CA.


 Other unique sights in this special building






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